What do you call a female doctor?
No, that isn’t the beginning of a terribly sexist joke: it’s more of a trick question. The term ‘doctor’, after all, is genderless: we wouldn’t describe a woman with all those degrees under her belt as a ‘lady doctor’, or a ‘doctoress’. No, she’s a doctor.
So why on earth are people getting so up in arms about the news that Jodie Whittaker is set to take on the iconic role of Doctor Who in the upcoming series of the BBC One show?
That’s right: Jodie Whittaker – oh she of Broadchurch fame –will make her debut on the sci-fi show when the Doctor regenerates in the Christmas special.
Speaking about the role, the critically-acclaimed actor said: “It feels completely overwhelming, as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you're told you can and can't be.”
But, being all too aware of society’s ingrained misogyny, Whittaker also asked the show’s fans not to be “scared” by her gender.
“Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that's exciting about change,” she said, adding: “The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.”
Sadly, her calming words have fallen upon wilfully deaf ears: all over social media, so-called Doctor Who fans (mostly men, naturally) have begun stubbornly insisting that this is “yet another case of liberalism gone mad” – with many claiming that the Doctor can’t be a woman.
“She won’t be able to drive the Tardis,” they bleated. “It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit with the narrative. What’s next – a male Wonder Woman? He’s a Time Lord, not a Time Lady. She won’t know how to use the screwdriver. What does this mean for Time Lord marriage? The clue’s in the name – it’s Doctor Who, not Nurse Who.”
It’s all so incredibly backward. It’s all so boringly predictable. And literally everything they’ve said is so bloody incorrect.
And this Doctor Who obsessee is here to prove it, too.
Firstly, let’s start with the more ridiculous objections: women absolutely can be doctors, men can absolutely be nurses, women can drive just as well (in fact, better) than men, and we all bloody know that there’s nothing more ignorant than subscribing to the big old heteronormative myth: guess what? We can love whoever we choose to love, regardless of gender, so we doubt the sacred foundations of Time Lord marriage will be shaken by the Doctor’s latest regeneration.
Secondly, the term ‘Time Lord’ isn’t gender-specific: it’s literally the name of an alien race – aka the inhabitants of the planet Gallifrey. And, according to Doctor Who canon, Time Lords could unwillingly swap genders with regeneration and so they were far less concerned about prescribed gender roles.
Thirdly, to all those people claiming that a female Doctor Who doesn’t fit with the narrative, you clearly haven’t been paying all that much attention to a show you claim to love.
Remember when Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor started talking about Corsair, a Time Lord who made a point of inking the same tattoo onto his or her body after each regeneration?
Or that moment the Doctor shot a male Gallifreyan General – and she regenerated into a female?
When David Tennant regenerated into Smith – and the latter grasped at his new features and exclaimed: “Hair! I’m a girl?”
When Joanna Lumley portrayed the Doctor in The Curse of Fatal Death (a special Comic Relief episode of the show)?
Or that absolutely massive series eight moment, when Missy revealed to the Doctor that she was a regeneration of The Master?
When the Master became the Mistress, the character’s story was all the stronger for it. It stands to reason the same might be true for the Doctor.
There is no big stone tablet out there in the galaxy that demands all of our Time Lord regenerations be played by white men. And, unlike other great British multi-occupancy fictional roles (think James Bond, for example), shape-shifting is an established part of the narrative here. The Doctor can be anyone. Literally anyone. And, given the spirit of the world at the moment, it’s more than timely that we finally, finally have a female Doctor.
The real question we should all be asking – the only complaint we should have – is why have Doctor Who bosses waited so long to give us one?
When Doctor Who was at its height of popularity (remember when a whopping 15.2 million tuned in for Tennant’s 2007 Christmas episode?), and Tennant was about to regenerate into someone new – well, that would have been the perfect moment to usher a woman into the Tardis.
Instead, womankind has been forced to wait until 2017, when ratings are at an absolute all-time low (last year’s Christmas special was viewed by just 6.1 million), and episodes have been criticised for being overly-complex, their too-late time slot, and the unpopular baddies.
So, finally, show bosses have handed over the reins to a woman – and for many of us, it feels more of an, “oh well, what have we got to lose?” than a perfectly timed middle-finger to the patriarchy. Like a woman finally being allowed to ride the horse that’s been specially reserved for warrior kings – but only when said horse is tired, and old, and nearing the end of its life.
It’s a problem, because it feels like a calculated attempt to boost ratings. Because this almost feels like “too little, too late”. Because women deserved more.
And yet, despite all of this… well, we’re still incredibly hopeful. We have a brand-new writer in Chris Chibnall. We have a phenomenal actor in Whittaker. We have a new source of inspiration for little girls (and big grown up ones) everywhere. We have normalised the apparently radical idea that a TV series can chance from a male lead to a female one. We have scored a big fat resounding point for womankind. And, most importantly, we have a brand-new reason to tune into one of the world’s most beloved and enduring sci-fi shows of all time.
We can’t wait to join the first female Doctor Who in the Tardis. Alonso!
Images: BBC One